OT: best book in years

Chad Netzer cnetzer at sonic.net
Sun Sep 7 11:39:12 CEST 2003

On Sun, 2003-09-07 at 01:06, Alex Martelli wrote:

> Me, I'd recommend "Dawkins vs. Gould: Survival of the Fittest",
> by Kim Sterelny.

Thanks, I had just been wondering if there was a book on this subject,
after a recent discussion about this topic with my girlfriend.

> Gould is a great writer, even though in his later works he often gives in to
> unstructured rambling (I can of course well sympathize with THAT 
> temptation:-) -- Dawkins, IMHO, isn't, even though in "The selfish gene" he
> does manage (by a mix of his powerful ideas and his dry direct prose) to
> be truly riveting.

Agreed about Dawkins.  I read "The Selfish Gene" while travelling, and
found it fascinating, but even I (uninformed as I am in this area)
thought the ideas presented (and often originated) by Dawkins needed
deeper presentation, or a richer justification.  A good presenter, but
not a great one.  Still, a great starting book, with fascinating ideas
if you've never progressed beyond the basic teachings of genetics, and
an important piece of work.

I haven't yet read Gould, though.  I've heard him in interviews enough
to not yet try to read his books.  He seems to have a "deeper" (for lack
of a better word) presentation style than Dawkins (ie. less intuitive at
first, but perhaps ultimately more satisfying).  I didn't quite feel
prepared for him in the past, and should now try.  Probably I'm doing
them both an injustice with these characterizations.

> If you do want to see (essentially) Dawkins' ideas
> presented by a truly great writer, try Matt Ridley -- "Genome", "Origins of
> Virtue", "Red Queen", all superb writing (haven't read "Nature via Nurture"
> yet -- I'll wait for the paperback).

Yes!  I heard him talk about "Nature via Nuture", and immediately
ordered all his books.  I haven't gotten to "Nature via Nurture" yet,
but the others have been fascinating reading (I'm proceeding from oldest
to newest).

I'm also reading "Guns, Germs, and Steel" by Jared Diamond.  It is
fantastic, and a great companion to any of the above.  A very ambitious
work (the history of pre-modern humankind), with some powerful questions
raised and tackled.  There are many reviews on the web, so I'll just
leave it at that.

Chad Netzer

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